When Anju Bobby George won India's only medal at the World Athletics Championships
The legendary long jumper, Anju Bobby George, still remains the first and the only Indian to ever win a medal at the World Athletics Championships.
Before Neeraj Chopra sent the javelin flying for a historic gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics, it was a certain Anju Bobby George who was India's pride in athletics, especially with respect to the World Athletics Championships.
George's long jump effort clad in bronze at the 2003 World Championships and made her India's first and only athlete, even till now, to achieve a podium finish at the event.
Her 6.70m jump was enough to pip Great Britain's Jade Johnson, who had jumped a distance of 6.63m. While we only got to see the run-up, behind the jump, and the scores getting displayed, there is a vast history behind that single medal-winning jump. The same was the case with Anju Bobby George.
Her life was always a struggle, owing to the fact that she was born with a single kidney, information she became privy to back in 2001. This fact about her seriously hampered her recovery time. However, this did not prevent her from achieving greatness.
In 2003, there were a lot of rigorous training and some Grand Prix events leading up to the eventual big one. Her coaches, including husband-turned-coach Robert Bobby George, thought this would prepare her for the Worlds. On the flip side, the over-exertion only made things worse for the athlete.
"I was broken. The world championships was something that I was preparing for after missing out on the Sydney Olympics and I could barely walk. My body had swollen up like a ball," George was quoted saying in an Olympics website article.
Usually, if an athlete, or any sportsperson for that matter, is fatigued to that extent, pulling out of the tournament would be the most sensible thing to do. However, Robert decided to take his wife on a holiday instead.
Still unsure whether her worlds dream was on, a sceptical Anju took the bait and roamed around Paris like a tourist. For two weeks, rest and recuperation were the athlete's orders of the day. Coach Robert would still ask her to go for the odd jogging session now and again, which further puzzled her.
It was later when she got to know that this was all a distraction for her recovery. As history is testament, her husband's plan certainly worked like a treat. But, when it came to the finals, there were further hurdles that she had to jump over to snatch that medal.
After starting with an impressive 6.61m, she registered two fouls, bringing her down in the standings. Jade Johnson of Great Britain nudged past her to go ahead. Hope was still not lost for George as something was about to scare her and be the reason for her eventual podium finish.
Before the fifth attempt, many athletes had noticed the absence of check marks, which are crucial for the jumpers to time and pace their strides. This invoked fear into many of the women, and George wasn't an exception.
Former champion Fiona May was the first to fall prey to this, who eventually got eliminated after her fifth attempt got red-flagged. Despite using a towel as a make-shift check mark, Anju Bobby George somehow managed to register her final attempt, which she thought wasn't good enough for a medal.
As fate would have it, Jade Johnson's miscued jump meant George's dream had come true and she had become India's first athlete to ever win a medal at the championships.
Last year, the Senior Vice-President of the Athletics Federation of India (AFI) received the 'Woman of the Year' award from World Athletics on their annual awards night. George was chosen as the recipient due to her efforts at promoting talent in India and also being a proponent of gender equality.